NUEVA ECIJA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte himself unveiled a “mega” drug rehabilitation center in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, meant to symbolize another side to his controversial campaign against illegal drugs.
Duterte, along with Chinese tycoon Huang Rulun and some Cabinet members, unveiled the marker of Phase I of the Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center on Tuesday, November 29.
The 11-hectare compound is set to be the largest drug rehab facility in the country once all 4 phases are complete, when it will be able to accommodate 10,000 patients.
Duterte said the rehabilitation center would accommodate drug addicts who willingly surrender to the government.
"Iyong mga tao na tumago at naghintay ng opportunity for a rehab or something good along the way, baka may makukuha sila, iyon ‘yung dadating dito. (Those who hide and wait for an opportunity for rehabilitation or something good along the way, they might get something if they come here)," he said during the inauguration.
But no such future awaits drug addicts who choose to fight back.
"Those who choose to fight it out, made a stand, they are there in the memorials and cemeteries. I am sorry for them," he added.
Duterte gave his speech in the gravel courtyard of the facility’s newly-constructed dormitory, a maze of two-story white and blue buildings.
“Mr Huang, please accept my gratitude and that of the Filipino people,” said Duterte at the start of his speech, addressing the Chinese real estate businessman who sat beside him onstage.
Calling Huang a "good Samaritan," Duterte said, "He just came out of nowhere and went to my office and said that he would help me solve the drug problem."
Ready to take in patients
Duterte was given a brief tour of the facility before his speech.
The dormitory, according to Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, has a capacity of 2,500 beds. The 3 remaining phases of the facility will also be able to hold 2,500 patients each for a combined total of 10,000 patients when the facility becomes fully operational.
Photo by Ace R Morandante/PPD
Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
The facility will cater to “habitual, not hardened” drug addicts from Metro Manila and Central Luzon, said Ubial. Hardened addicts will be sent to more specialized rehab centers like those in Tagaytay and Bataan, she said.
Starting November 29, the facility will be able to accommodate patients. In fact, the first batch of 37 patients were already in the center during the inauguration.
To become a resident, drug addicts must first be assessed by barangay health clinics and recommended as residents based on the severity of their drug addiction. The Department of Health will provide transportation to the facility.
Only indigent patients will be able to stay in the center as residents free of charge. Patients deemed to belong to economic class A will pay the full amount of P10,000 per month. Class B patients pay P5,000 a month while Class C patients pay P2,500 a month.
Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
The dormitory is a compound of two-story white and blue buildings. A peek into the bedrooms shows they are clean and sparsely furnished, in most cases occupied by only two double-decker beds. There are also mess rooms, common bathrooms, and a gravel court yard.
Quiet, unassuming billionaire
The 65-year-old Huang, clad simply in a blue, long-sleeved shirt and black slacks, was a quiet and unassuming presence during the event. He declined requests of journalists to interview him.
“As on overseas Chinese in the Philippines, I fully support President Duterte’s admirable campaign…This is our modest effort to make the Philippines peaceful, stable and harmonious,” said Huang in Chinese during the event.
His speech was translated into English sentence by sentence.
Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
According to a press release from Huang’s staff, the billionaire donated P1.4 billion for two drug rehabilitation centers occupying a total area of 100,000 square meters.
The drug rehabilitation center unveiled that day covers only a construction area of 60,000 square meters. Ubial could not tell reporters how much its construction cost.
Huang had first announced his intention to make the donation during a meeting with Duterte on July 27 in Malacañang. Before then, Huang had met Duterte twice, first on June 28, then on June 30 during Duterte’s inauguration as president.
The two also met during Duterte’s state visit to China last October.
According to Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr, Huang was introduced to Duterte by a common Chinese friend.
Huang is the founder of real estate conglomerate Century Golden Resources Group, a Chinese-based company that posted a $5-billion turnover in 2015, according to its website.
Century Golden owns 20 5-star hotels and 10 large shopping malls, including Century City complex in Beijing, and has investments all over China, in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Sweden, and Denmark.
The conglomerate has been listed among China’s “Top 500 enterprises” 11 times since 2005. In 2009, it ranked second in terms of national real estate sales area and ranked 8th in gross sales nationwide.
Before Duterte’s chopper took off, Huang waited by the road under the sun like everyone else. But the moment guests were allowed to leave the area, Huang was whisked away in a Jaguar with car plate number “GOD 77.” – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.